This pandemic has forced churches into a crisis. Some, choosing to obey the laws of the land and to ensure the safety of their members have gone virtual, while others say they are willing to risk infection and possibly death for the sake of furthering the gospel. So some have chosen to defy the government restrictions and are holding in-person services.
While watching this, I have been thinking.
Firstly, God’s kingdom is mighty and stronger than any virus or earthly calamity. We should not make the mistake of believing that the health and well-being of God’s true church rests in any church model that man has devised. God is reaching out with the Gospel. He invites us to share in His mission to save humanity. But it is His and He will see it through. As Jesus said, the gates of Hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:17).
Secondly, I look at this time as one where the church is being sifted. There have been many nominal Christians, people who have considered themselves Christians without really committing their entire lives to Christ who will drop off from the church. John would say they were never really of us (1 John 2:19). The former model of church, the large gathering, often was much like an entertainment, a mostly anonymous affair where some would feel that they had done their Christian duty simply by attending. Jesus gave us the parable of the seeds and the sower. There were those who heard the gospel but the cares of the world choked out their faith. There were also those who were planted in shallow soil that died in the heat of the sun. This is going to happen. We should not be surprised.
My suggestion is that we stop fighting to preserve a structure of the church that is not endemic to the gospel. The organized church—with a main pastor and support staff, in a large building, with extensive programs and with all the infrastructure that entails—was never a part of the early church. The early church was centered in the home, the household (Greek—oikos). In all periods of human history, the home has been the central social unit upon which the rest of the society is built. It was definitely this way in the Roman world the church was born in. Charles M. Lowry writes, “The family understood this way, consisting of blood relatives, clients, and friends, was one of the bastions of Greco-Roman society.”
The early church spread to and through homes. Households (oikos), which were made up of adults, children, and slaves and often multiple families living together, would be brought to Christ and would spread the word to other households.
There are wonderful benefits from centering the church in homes. Here are some listed by Charles M. Lowry:
It did not meet in consecrated or special premises; its context was the home of one of its members. It did not center round a sacred text or particular ritual acts; its raison d’éntre was the sharing of the shared grace (charis) of God in its particular expressions (charismata). It was not characterized by an established pattern or liturgy nor did it depend on an official leadership to give it direction; rather it was to be expected that the Spirit would exercise sufficient control through the interplay of gifts and ministries ordered by him. Its aim was to bring about the mutual edification of all through a being together and by a doing for one another in word and action as the body of Christ in mutual interdependence on the Spitit.
Finally, one last benefit to making the home the center of the faith is that each family will have far more money to give to the poor and needy (and we surely have more of those just now). We should support those in our households who are out of work, who are unable to pay bills or buy food.
I am not against the organized church. I am for whatever spreads the gospel. I am for whatever God is doing to complete this mission.
All this to say, that God is in charge. He may allow a pandemic. He may allow it to be poorly handled so that traditional institutional churches around the land have to close their doors. Many churches will fail from a lack of offerings. Perhaps this is God’s way to show us that we have built a system that fits us more than one that fits Him. It has always been the temptation of God’s people to create a form of religion that is comfortable rather than rely on God when He is doing something new (remember the golden calf). Perhaps home-centered fellowships will rise. Fathers and mothers will take their rightful position as the spiritual leaders of their own households. Children will be trained in the ways of God by their parents. And all will rely on the Spirit.
I am not afraid for the God’s true church. Nothing can stand against it.
 Oikos, pg. 12. See also, chapter 7 in Tom Mercer’s book, Not My—Church and his book, Oikos: Your World, Delivered.
 The Responsible Congregation: 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, in The Church Comes Home, by Robert and Julia Banks, pg. 59
How to Stop Abortions
I am against abortion. I believe it is murder. Period.
I was recently told how to vote this November. The assumption being that one political party is better for this issue than the other. I do not see this.
The Republicans had all three branches of government when President Trump took office. Abortions continued at the same rate. They are now trying to stop abortion through appointing conservative judges, but these judges have not stopped abortions.
So what are we to do?
The answer is to stop thinking that we can eliminate abortion through legislation. Legislation is the expression of the values of the public, and, currently, the majority of the public believes that abortion is a right. We are losing the battle of ideas.
Let me state firstly, that, as Christians, our focus is not to be on any particular sin, including abortion. I do not see Jesus or Paul or Peter attacking the sin of the gentiles (they do attack the sin in the church). The focus of Christians should always be to bring people to Christ. In Christ, under the authority of God, the Holy Spirit will guide each individual to righteous thinking and practice. They will leave sin behind.
Now, I am not saying that we do not engage the world on the topic of abortion. I have had intense conversations with people and have given them information that has helped them see and understand that abortion is actually killing children. And others have chosen not to see this, by force of will. One of the things I love about being a Christian is that I do not have to hide from tough issues. The truth is the truth.
Here are some of my arguments:
My focus is the focus of Jesus. I am trying to proclaim the good news—that God has sent His own Son, to show us how humanity was meant to live and to give His life as a payment for all our sins. It is our faith in Him and our identification with His sacrifice that allows us to participate in His death and resurrection, dying to our old selves and being made new in Christ. It is in this new life that our perspective is changed. It is In Christ that we repent of all our sin, where we are given the Holy Spirit who gives us the strength to live for Him and to progressively grow to in His image.
Christians need to stop being amazed that non-Christians act like non-Christians. We need to always have thoughtful truthful answers for what we think (1 Peter 3:15), but it is the new creation that will change the world, not new legislation.
Will There Be a Rapture?
My first question to you is, why do you want one? If it’s to escape suffering, then you haven’t understood the gospel. The good news is that we get to share in Christ’s sufferings—not run away from them.
Consider these Scriptures:
1 Peter 4:1 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.
2 Corinthians 4:17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
2 Timothy 3:12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,
James 1:12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
Philippians 3:10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
Romans 5:3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
1 Peter 4:12-13 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
There are many other Scriptures, but you get the point. Nowhere in the New Testament are we told that God will rescue us out of suffering for our faith. So my question to those who hope in a rapture, why are you holding that hope? Is it that you wish to avoid any suffering for Christ? If so, you are out of step with the Scriptures and the experience of the church in this world. Think of it, approximately 13,000.000 Christians were killed for their faith in the first two centuries of the church. Christians continue to be persecuted every day in various parts of the globe.
Now, I have heard people use the verse, “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath,” (1 Thessalonians 5:9) to explain the need for a rapture. What these people fail to do is read the rest of the verse: “But to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” You see, Paul is not talking about suffering for the faith. He is talking about suffering for our sins before God. The glorious truth is that God saved us from His wrath. He did not save us from suffering on His behalf.
One of the reasons I don't believe in the rapture is because it goes against all the Scriptures I read in the New Testament about suffering for the gospel—and there are a lot of them. In fact, it is a theme of the New Testament and a normal part of being in Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it very well, “Just as Christ is Christ only in virtue of His suffering and rejection, so the disciple is a disciple only in so far as he shares his Lord’s suffering and rejection, and crucifixion.”
Now, lest I leave you without hope, I firmly believe that God will make us adequate to any persecution we suffer, if we will walk in Him. Edith Schaeffer wrote, “I believe that the sufficiency of the grace of God on the basis of the blood of Christ, shed to give victory in the battle against Satan, has been and is being and will be proven to be not just academically ’sufficient’. This grace will have been, in instance after instance, historically proven to have been sufficient indeed in every conceivable kind of affliction and suffering, in every kind of trouble and persecution.”
So, I would say that my main reason for not believing in the rapture is that it seems to want to say that Christians will be saved from the suffering of the Tribulation. There is no evidence of this in the Book of Revelation itself. In fact, my opinion is that the Book of Revelation was given by Christ to show the church that, although suffering will get intense and many will die for their faith (as they have in every age), he who endures to the end will be saved. I look at it as a survival manual for those in the faith. And the great message of the book? Jesus will win and establish His kingdom forever in the end. As Paul wrote, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18).
Let us all continue to strive to gain the mind of Christ and to walk in Him no matter what.
 The Dangers of a Shallow Faith, by A. W. Tozer, pg. 86. See also, Early Christian Fathers, by Cyril C. Richardson, pg. 64, 75
 The Cost of Discipleship, pg. 96
 Affliction, by Edith Schaeffer, pg. 81,
“So, what do you do with Jesus?” I asked my friend.
Jesus. The stumbling block. The one who messes up everyone’s preconceived notion of what is true and real. The supreme apple-cart tipper. The thorn in every philosopher’s side.
Josh McDowell, in his book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, once explained that there are only three things you can do with Jesus. You can call him a liar who deceived his followers. You can call him a lunatic who not only deceived his followers, but also himself. Or you can call him Lord, as he claimed for himself to be the One sent by the Father to redeem all mankind and to start a new form of human race, one filled with His Spirit and who would walk in the pattern of life in His Kingdom (as He did) with Him as Lord.
Lately, I‘ve noticed a fourth option—just ignore him.
This seems to be the position taken by most people I see. The crash of media images, the daily bombardment of information via social media and the 24-hour news cycle, has made us numb to anything that happened in history—even the Son of God entering it. We live in the perpetual present.
And yet, Jesus coming to earth is a historical event like no other, because he is like no other. We dare not group Jesus with any military leader, philosopher, or the head of any religion. None of these ever said they were the incarnation of God—and proved it. None of them fulfilled a two-thousand-year-old tradition of prophecy where over three hundred prophetic utterances declared details of his life including where he would be born and how he would die. None of them healed the sick (including the blind and those with incurable leprosy) and raised the dead in front of thousands of witnesses.
Along with Jesus’ claim to have been the Messiah, he also explained that with his death and resurrection (again, something that cannot be explained away), he was creating a new way of being. Paul calls it a new creation. He says that those who enter into this new humanity, who identify with Jesus death and resurrection, dying to themselves and being raised into new life with him, will be made new and filled with the Holy Spirit of God. This will give them the power to live a new life.
The Apostles did this. Each one of them was transformed from the cowering sniveling deniers at the time of Jesus’ death to the bold empowered witnesses who stood up to power after his resurrection and ascension into heaven and outpouring of the Spirit. From that time to this, men and women have put their faith and trust in Jesus, and his death and resurrection to forgive their sins and transform them into a new humanity, one which will be fully revealed at the end of the age.
No, none of the other philosophers or religious leaders have ever said that they were able to do this. Here, Jesus is completely unique.
There was a time when all of history revolved around this Jesus—the man who lived and was raised and still lived as Lord. In fact, in the 500s men changed the very division of history to coincide with his birth. It can be easily said that no person in human history has had such a profound effect on Western civilization than Jesus.
Western? What about Eastern? What about the influence of Buddha? Yes, Siddhartha Gautama had a tremendous influence upon the thinking and practice in India, China, and the rest of the East. But, he declared that he had discovered a way to enlightenment, not that he was the way, as Jesus did. One could follow the teachings of the Buddha quite separate from his person—Buddhism without Buddha. But you cannot, in the same way, separate Christianity from Jesus. He is the center. He is the savior and the Lord.
So, a word to those who have chosen to ignore Jesus. Wake up out of your media fast-paced life induced stupor. Put down the video game controller. Stop for a moment (maybe many moments) and consider seriously the person of Jesus. Read the gospels in the New Testament (or listen to them on your smartphone) and ask yourself, who was this guy?
If you come to the honest decision that he was a liar or a lunatic, then you’re done with him—maybe. The teaching of the New Testament, if it is right, says that all of us will be judged by our answer to the question of what we thought about Jesus and how we reacted to his command for us to follow Him. It will probably not go well for those who have to say to him, “I thought you were lying.”
One last thing. It may be that the majority now a days chooses to ignore Jesus for the very reason that to take him seriously would put them in a terrible position. To take Jesus seriously is to take responsibility. It is to admit that he said he was Lord. Well, now what? There are only a two possibilities. One can tell Jesus, “I don’t care. You may in fact be the Lord of all life, but so what? This is my life and I’m going to live it any way I please. If I go to Hell afterwards (something I really don’t believe), then so be it. At least I will be able to say that I was free to do what I wanted.”
The second alternative is to agree that Jesus is Lord and to find your life by losing it, by giving it to Him. In Christ, you will find a new freedom, one not based on selfishness, but one based on doing things according to the plan of the One who created and designed all things. You will find a new relationship to God and a new identity and a new meaning to all reality. On top of this, those in Christ do have a hope of living eternally with God as His sons and daughters. Not a bad gig at all.
So the question stands—What will you do with Jesus?
Every warrior has a mission, an objective. Our scriptural mandate, our commission from Jesus, is to spread the gospel (something C. S. Lewis called, the good infection). To Paul and the apostles, the sharing of the gospel was paramount. Nothing else mattered as much as this. However, as Lewis pointed out, being able to share the faith means being able to explain it to someone who knows nothing about it.
C. S. Lewis wrote, “If, given patience and ordinary skill, you cannot explain a thing to any sensible person whatever (provided he will listen), then you don’t really understand it yourself.”
Lewis was often concerned that the church creates its own language and set of experiences that are, eventually, taken for granted as normal. They are not really explained; they are assumed. Then what we find is that when we try to explain the faith to others, we fall short, mainly because we have never really thought through what we actually believe ourselves, not to the point where we are capable of explaining it.
Take for example, the resurrection. You can tell a person that Jesus raised from the dead, he resurrected. But what does that mean? Did he have the same body? Was it a transformed body? Was he physical? Then how did He pass through walls? How did He disappear? What does this have to do with me? Even if it happened 2000 years ago, why should I care?
We do a song in our church where we say…
I believe in God our Father
I believe in Christ the Son
I believe in the Holy Spirit
Our God is three in one
I believe in the resurrection
That we will rise again
For I believe in the name of Jesus
Can you explain everything in this song to someone who knows nothing about Christianity? Do they make sense to you? Are they part of your daily experience or are they simply what the church teaches and what the Bible says?
To fulfill our mission, we must know our faith and be able to explain it to others.
We must also know the gospel. The church I attend has broken the gospel up into three parts they call the ABCs: Admit that you are a sinner, Believe that Jesus died for your sin, and Chose Jesus as your Lord and Savior. This is simple and great for the end of a sermon. But the people in our oikos, or circle of influence, who do not know Jesus need to know more.
Take sin, for instance. Can you explain sin in a way that makes sense to a non-Christian? How do you explain to a person that they are a sinner in a way that makes sense?
So what are we to do?
1. Understand that when you share the gospel you are sharing YOUR FAITH, your witness. It is what is real to you in Christianity, in your own personal life. You are the evidence that Christianity works, that it is worth the steep price (we are asking people to give up their entire lives). You would not buy diet pills from a fat doctor. Above all, we must have a vibrant Christian life to share with our oikos.
2. Become aware of what you are weak in or do not understand and study this. I recently realized I did not know very much about Heaven, so I bought a couple of books about Heaven and read them. I have also done more Scriptural studies about Heaven. Now I have a far more comprehensive understanding. 2 Timothy 2:15 “Study to show yourself approved, a workman who need not be ashamed.”
3. Think through and practice sharing the gospel. How do you know what to say if you don’t practice? Think of the objections your friends might bring up and how you would answer them.
4. Be honest, not a salesman. We’re not selling Jesus, we’re sharing with others how they can be saved from their sins, become children of God, and live in glory for all eternity. The only other option for them is an eternity in Hell separated from God. Always keep this cost in mind. This is really eternal life or death.
5. Along with being honest, be willing to say that you don’t know everything, that you are a learner on a life-long journey for understanding God (actually, longer than that). Remember, we’re inviting people to join us on a wonderful journey of discovery.
6. Always remember that God wants our friends and family saved far more than we do. No one comes to Christ without God's intervention. Sharing our faith is partnering with God in His quest to bring all to Him. We must pray for those who we are sharing with. We must ask the Spirit to give us the right words and to know when to speak. We must work with God.
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20).
 From the essay, “Before We Can Communicate,” in God in the Dock, pg. 256-7
What does it mean to have God as our Father?
Oftentimes we begin our prayers with the words, “Our Father . . .” But I wonder how real these words are to us? I wonder how far they have altered our identities—our sense or ourselves.
By what right do Christians call God their Father?
In the moment that we give our lives to Christ, the Bible says we are born again. John 3:3 says, “Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” This who section of John 3 is most revealing.
Here are some scriptures that speak of this rebirth:
John 1:12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,
Romans 8:14-17 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
1 Peter 1:23 Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;
1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
1 John 3:9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.
1 John 5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.
1 John 5:4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
These scriptures speak of the most profound change that happened to us when we accepted Christ. We were born again. These are not just words. They are words that describe reality. The author of Hebrews says, “Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!” (Hebrews 12:9). This is the contrast we must all get settled in our minds. We all have earthly fathers. Some were good fathers, some not. But notice the difference that happens in Christ. Our fathers are no longer our source of authority. Now, it is God. Does this mean we no longer love and respect our fathers? Absolutely not. We honor them more, because now we honor them in obedience to our true father, God (see the fifth commandment).
What will change when we know God as our father?
In a word, everything. It changes our identity, our outlook, our personal life mission, our afterlife, our relationships, and our faith. J. I. Packard said it very well:
“You sum up the whole New Testament teaching in a single phrase, if you speak of it as a revelation of the fatherhood of the holy Creator. In the same way, you sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. ‘Father’ is the Christian name for God.” Evangelical Magazine, 7, pg. 19f. in, Knowing God, pg. 182.
We need to meditate on the fact that when we gave our lives to Christ we were really born again, re-born with God’s seed, making Him our true father and us his sons and daughters for all eternity.
A New Identity
We all have an identity. It’s a self-definition, a way we understand ourselves. Most often it lies in the background, informing all we do and say. It determines our patterns of thinking—the way we see the world.
The Apostle Paul gives us the best picture of what needs to happen with this identity once we come into Christ. He writes in Philippians 3:2-11.
2 Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. 7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Paul starts this section by telling the Philippians to watch out for those religious people who mutilate the flesh. This is a very graphic picture from circumcision, the rite where the foreskin was removed, the sign that a person had become a Jew. What Paul is saying essentially is that religious people, who use the flesh for their feelings of adequacy, are like those who would perform circumcision with a cheese grater. All they do is make a bloody mess of things.
Paul advocates a better circumcision—removal of the flesh—that comes in Christ.
Paul explains that he is not advocating this removal of the flesh because he is in any way inferior when it comes to the flesh. In fact, when it comes to the flesh he had far more reason to boast.
So, how does Paul define the flesh? He goes on to lay out the following categories (verses 5-6):
Racial Heritage: Paul says he was the supreme Jew. We might take our identity from our race and the culture associated with it. I am a white male. I have been a white male all my life. This means I relate and identify with the world through my white maleness. We all have a racial and family background. It has become our context, the way we have made meaning of our lives.
Position: Paul was a Pharisee, one of the strictest Jewish sects. He had risen in the ranks far above others of his age. For myself, I have held many positions in my life. I could use them to give myself a sense of worth. All cultures and races have these value markers. When we think, “They really made something of their lives,” we are identifying these markers.
Performance: Paul’s zeal was shown in his persecuting the church. It was his great accomplishment. I am closer to the end of my life than the beginning. At such times it is easy to reflect on accomplishments, to take pride in some of the things we have done that have made a difference.
Reaching the Bar: Paul says he was blameless according to the Law of God. He lived up to the strictest measures of the Law. Again, each of our contexts has an unwritten code of acceptance. We have a clear conscience when we live up to the expectations of our race/family.
So what did Paul do with his flesh? What are we to do with ours?
In verses 7-11 Paul tells us that he counts everything he was in the flesh, his racial/family/national heritage, including all his positions and accomplishments as loss. In fact, he counts them as dung. Think about that. Taking everything you have prided yourself with, everything you have accomplished, your whole life’s work, and thinking of it as utterly worthless, as dung, worthy of flushing down a toilet.
To gain Christ and be found in Him in that last day, whenever the last day is for each of us. This tells us that we cannot continue with two identities—our racial identity and our Christian faith. To do so is to allow the possibility that we will put our confidence in the flesh and forfeit what we have in Christ. Paul would not risk this. He threw away, counted as loss, everything of his flesh, his pre-Christian identity, like the heavy cargo causing a balloon to sink to destruction. As he tosses is all aside, he replaces it with the new identity he has in Christ. So what fills these categories now?
Heritage: We are members of the new humanity, inaugurated when Christ rose from the grave. We are of the race of Christ which surpasses all human categories. As Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). We are part of God’s family. He is now our father. Christ is our closest brother as well as our Lord. Those in Christ are our brothers and sisters. Our entire identity is now related to who we are in Christ.
Position: Our position in Christ is one that is secured when we take hold of the wonderful salvation offered us in Christ. The position of sonship/daughtership is not achieved. It is granted to all in Christ. We do not advance in it. We start and end at 100 percent. We have arrived. This is not a source of personal pride, for all we have in Christ is His gift.
Performance: Here again, all we do in Christ, all that matters, is done by the Spirit working through us. Therefore, we cannot take any pride in it. We can thank God for working through us, but all the glory and praise goes to Him.
Reaching the Bar: In Christ, He has reached the bar for us. In Him we have perfection. Paul says it like this:
“… be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Philippians 3:9).
So, why toss aside everything we grew up valuing about ourselves, everything we took pride in? We do it to gain something far better—to gain Christ and the identity and worth that comes in Christ. Jesus says it like this:
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13:44).
So, how do we actually do this? How do we count the flesh as dung and redefine ourselves in terms of Christ? This is the purpose of the Christian life. It is a focused strategic program of redefining who we are. It happens through consciously denying our old identities (the flesh) and building our identity in Christ.
Paul writes to the Ephesians, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
We have the ability, in Christ, to put aside our old identities, our old way of life, and to put on the new self. It is like taking off one set of clothes and putting on another.
Of course, we will, at times, fall back into the flesh. We will catch ourselves using the old mental pathways to define ourselves or others or circumstances and events. When we see this in ourselves, we must stop, confess this (admit it before God), and toss it overboard for the sake of gaining Christ. This is a process that will take a lifetime, but one worthy of the effort. Paul thought so. The reward? To be found in Christ at the end—to be part of God’s family forever.
As people made in God’s image, we were created to have feelings. God has feelings. He cares about his people. He gets angry with injustice and betrayal. He loves us more deeply than we will ever understand. Jesus demonstrated the full spectrum of emotions. In this writing, we will consider sympathy.
Sympathy is the sensitivity to the needs and feelings of others. It is caring about others and their difficulties and problems. It is concern for the vulnerable (kids, the elderly, the impaired, etc.). Empathy is vital for any good relationships. The counselor Gary Collins identified empathy as one of the important elements to a successful marriage. He identifies empathy as, “a sensitivity to the hurts and needs of others and a willing attempt to see the world from the other person’s perspective.”
This approach to life fits in well with being a Christian. Paul tells us to consider others more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). We are to care for others in their distress the way Jesus did (Luke 7:11-17). It says in Luke 7:13 that Jesus’ heart went out to the woman. The verb here is σπλαγχνίζομαι (splagchnizomai) in the Greek. It means to be moved in your inward parts. We translate it as compassion (com-together, passion). We see this in Luke 10:33 where the Good Samaritan was moved to help. It is the word used of the father who sees his prodigal son returning. Compassion is what motivated Jesus to heal the man born blind (Matthew 20:34). (See also Matthew 14:14, Mark 1:41). In Mark 6:34 we are told it was what motivated Jesus to teach. Compassion was the driving force behind Jesus’ ministry. We should follow His example.
What does the Scripture say?
The Psalms are filled with examples of people feeling deeply before their God.
Romans 12:10 “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”
Romans 12:15 “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
Ephesians 4:31-32 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Paul told the Philippians he had them in his heart (Philippians 1:7).
Love is the mark of the Christian (1 John 3:14).
1 John 4:7 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
What would cause a person to become indifferent, closed off to the needs of others?
Like most things, we can put ourselves on a path where we become more sympathetic.
Becoming like Christ not only means thinking the right things. It is also feeling the right things. We are told to guard our hearts (Proverbs 24:3). This means making sure our hearts are healthy and aligned with God’s.
 Christian Counseling, pg. 148
When we think of our world, we can see that it is not perfect. The universe itself degrades. Everything wears down or dies. Our bodies grow old and are subject to disease. People are not perfect, often being selfish or prejudice or hateful toward others, acting in violence or thievery. So, the question is, why?
There are only three possible answers to the question, why?
Firstly, we can imagine that the universe is just imperfect. It’s always been imperfect and we just have to get used to it. People get sick and die, it’s just the way it is. Life sucks and then you die.
Secondly, we can say that everything is perfect just the way it is and that it is our perceptions that are wrong. This is the position of Buddhism and the Eastern religions.
The third option, is that the universe was created perfect, but was corrupted. This is the Christian position. Paul says it like this, “…the creation was subjected to futility, not by its own will, but because of the One who subjected it…” (Romans 8:20).
The positions we adopt have consequences on how we live our lives. Those who take the first option tend to be pretty fatalistic. They have no hope. If they are realistic, they know that they and their loved ones will experience horrors in this life and that they will all die—this is just the way it is. This is why they focus on pleasure in this life—“Let’s eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32) There is no hope. It seems to me quite depressing and difficult to live with. It is the foundation for a life of addiction.
The second position, the Eastern one, held by many in the Eastern part of our world, requires me to retrain my mind to deny what is in front of my eyes. If I am consistent in this view, I have to declare everything as being equally good. So, my one nephew having cancer is just as good as my niece who just got married. There is nothing that is better or worse than anything else. Everything just is. I once heard the Eastern philosopher Alan Watts say that kicking your grandmother was just as moral as anything else you might do. I find this very difficult to accept. No wonder it takes people years of meditating and training their mind to achieve these levels of mind control in Eastern spirituality.
The third position makes sense to me. God created the universe perfect, declaring it, “Good.” But, as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God subjected the entire universe to futility. This word, futility, is ματαιότητι in the Greek. It’s the same word used in the Greek translation of Ecclesiastes 1:1 where Solomon says, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” In Ecclesiastes, Solomon looks at the meaninglessness and bleakness of life.
This view says that God tainted His own world (Romans 8:20). Why would He do this? For the most important possible reason—to lay the groundwork for salvation. When Adam sinned, he separated himself from God, the very person he was created to live in relationship with. Without this relationship, man is not man. The futility in the world—the disease and violence, etc.—is meant to make us say, “What the heck?” It makes us angry and gives us the deep feeling that this is not right—the universe should be different. It’s broken, how can it be fixed? This is where the gospel is such good news. Jesus came to free us from sin and to save the universe from futility. Paul tells us that creation will be liberated from its bondage when we are. The universe is connected to us. When we are made like Jesus (in the coming age), the universe will also be transformed. Revelation shows us that God will make a new heaven and a new earth and that they will be together as one. Best of all, we will be reunited with God in full fellowship. We get a taste of our liberation now, in Christ, but our full liberation comes after we die, or when Christ returns, whichever comes first. The consequence of this third view is hope. Yes, I weep with those who weep. I fully expect to one day succumb to disease and death. I see my body deteriorating before my eyes. Yet, I live in hope. The universe will one day be restored to its original glory. I will be given a new body, made by God’s hands that will never degrade. This third view fits the facts as we experience them and also provides us with hope for the future.
C. S. Lewis wrote: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” The Problem of Pain, pg. 93
Which view do you hold?
Godsend is written by Mike Apodaca from an story by Jeremy Apodaca